There is an unsettling merging of both fragility and permanence throughout Christina’s work: tomb-like bodies forged in stone and glass, yet rendered vulnerable by their transparency. One feels like a guilty voyeur, being allowed to peer into spaces not usually exposed.
Just as interesting is the range of reactions Bothwell’s work evokes, with some finding her “frozen” children and women unsettling, while others find comfort in the safe, inner worlds the artist creates. In my interview with the artist, Bothwell talks about her own feelings about her work and how she came to create her glass-and-stone enchantments.
INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA BOTHWELL
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Should we feel sympathy for your young subjects, their days of freedom and movement now over? Do they exist now as memories only? Or is the story not yet finished? Are they in fact in a state of suspended animation, like butterflies in a chrysalis?
Christina Bothwell: I do think that vulnerability is a major underlying theme in my work, but this is mostly unconscious on my part. It isn’t something I set out to demonstrate.
I think that my ideas are in many ways autobiographical; the pieces certainly arise from what is going on in my life, or what has gone on in my childhood. Our childhoods are so short-lived in the overall scheme of things, but they have such an influence throughout adulthood, don’t you agree?
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Does being an artist allow you to capture and hold frozen those moments that otherwise would be fleeting and elusive? The child never leaving the mother, the mother never growing old?
Christina Bothwell: My sculptures are at once real and alive to me and, at the same time, memories. I am very interested in the concept that we are more than our physicality, and therein lies tension for me: that fear of my own mortality, the fragility and temporary quality of the body, versus the possibility that we are each so much more than that, more than we can even conceive of. This is what informs my work.
Christina Bothwell: I very much like your metaphor of the butterfly in the chrysalis. It is funny that you mention that because on NPR a few years back, I heard a nature study regarding butterflies and the chrysalis, which I refer to repeatedly for inspiration. In the story, the scientists discovered that once a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis, its body completely breaks down, and even the DNA itself is turned into a kind of jelly: nothing of the caterpillar remains. Not even the DNA. Yet, after the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and is a whole new being, the memories that the butterfly had while it was a caterpillar still exist. The scientists were able to prove this by feeding the caterpillars in two rooms: one room that had a bad smell and one room that did not. After the moths emerged from their chrysalises, they steered clear of the formerly stinky room, seeking-out food solely from the other room.
Christina Bothwell: I don’t know if being an artist allows me to capture those moments that would otherwise be fleeting or elusive. I am always attempting to capture the non-linear, or that which I can’t really articulate visually, and that does include fleeting moments. I like to think of insects caught in amber.
Through my work am I creating safe places that are inherently fragile? I think I am trying to do that for myself, for my own psyche, through my work. Positive sublimation.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Which is more terrifying: To lose one’s freedom or to free-fall with no safety net?
Christina Bothwell: I think if I had to choose, I would say that it is more terrifying to lose my freedom–as an artist, as a person, as a being with consciousness–than to free fall, with no safety net. I think I am always seeking safety, or at least comfort, although really, all safety is illusion. All the predictable, safe conditions in life can be swept away with barely a moment’s notice. So just living day to day, when consciously and deliberately examined, is a metaphorical free-fall, without a safety net. So I strive to find equilibrium within the present moment, and to yield to that, even if it feels dangerous, or unsafe.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: How did you learn the art of creating in glass?
Christina Bothwell: I came to glass accidentally. Except for a high school summer course I took at a traditional Greek sculpture school, I am self-taught as a sculptor.
About ten years after I got out of art school, in which I trained as a painter, I found an old, ten dollar, clay kiln at an auction, and began teaching myself to use clay.
After a few years of making pieces out of clay, I felt burned-out, stuck. I couldn’t figure out how to put color into my pieces in a way that pleased me. Glazes on my pieces looked brazen, too commercial, too overly explained. But I was bored with how I was using the clay, and I felt stymied, creatively.
To reinvigorate myself, out of desperation, I took a week-long glass-casting class at Corning Glass Museum, even though I did not like any of the glass art I had been exposed to up till that point. The workshop introduced me to the basics of kiln firing, mold-making, cold-working, and refining with diamond bit air-powered tools and grinders.
In using glass, I realized quickly that it had all the advantages of clay, plus it could transmit light! Because of that, my glass creations seemed almost alive, like water. I was hooked.
After I got home from I had to figure out how to work with the material on my own, through trial and error.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Have you found glass to be a forgiving medium?
Christina Bothwell: As a medium, glass is not forgiving at all. I probably could have benefited from going to college to study glass, but the advantage of being self-taught is that I have no concept of what I shouldn’t do. Glass is like a very strict, non-lenient lover; it rarely lets me get away with anything!
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: As an artist, do you experience yourself being laid open in a way similar to your artwork? Constantly up for outside interpretation?
Christina Bothwell: I was recently at an art fair where a gallery was displaying ten of my pieces. I experienced that sense of being completely exposed, yes. It was as if someone had gone through my underwear drawer and hung all of my panties up in front of people. Perhaps because I live in a rural area where I don’t usually see people respond to my work, it is more challenging for me than for other artists to have my work on display. It was disconcerting to hear some of the spoken opinions. I had to keep interjecting and interrupting people in order to explain that in my work I am trying to express the soul, and I am not making a statement about cannibalism, that I am not advocating child abuse.
Christina Bothwell: I was a little surprised to hear so many people express that they perceive my pieces as being intentionally disturbing. Wanting to explore the workings of the unconscious tends to make people feel uncomfortable. They imagine death.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Your definition of “vulnerability”?
Christina Bothwell: I would say that vulnerability is about being completely open, defenseless, and that, in that state, there is a certain strength and also even a flexibility, because there are no rigidly-held defenses, no attempts to control.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Do you receive different responses to your work from women versus men?
Christina Bothwell: Women generally like my work more than do men. Actually, the people who like my work the most tend to be therapists, particularly psychiatrists; they tend to read all kinds of things into my pieces. I once had a man approach me at one of my openings and he was shaking in rage, asked me why I like to make pieces that encourage men to beat women. He scared me a little.
Christina Bothwell: The weirdest response though to my work came from a woman. The Smithsonian Museum acquired a piece of mine about ten years ago, but then after the piece was in the collection for a few months, the museum hired a new director. The new director, a woman, said that my work was so offensive–that it so clearly made fun of women going through infertility treatments–that she didn’t want the piece in the museum’s collection, not even in the basement. So it was removed from the collection.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Where would you like to take your work in the future?
Christina Bothwell: I would like to go even further into interior of the pieces. Up until now I have suggested the inner workings of the psyche, or the soul, by having figures seen through the surface of the glass. In the future and actually currently, I am trying to create more actual environments, both inside the figures and outside. Instead of a figure inside of another figure, I am making whole interior scenes that can be viewed through the surface of the glass–while at the same time having my figures interact with the environment outside of the figure. I am also trying to make groupings of figures, so that even if they are still solitary, their solitariness exists within something larger.
To view more of Christina Bothwell’s work or contact the artist, please visit her website at: christinabothwell.com